Sunday sightings, morning edition: Blue Jays, Great Blue Heron, Bald Eagle

A Great Blue Heron flies over one of Holyoke's canals at Sargeant Street Sunday morning. (c) Greg Saulmon 2011

Sunday morning brought some of the best weather we’ve seen here in a while, and it was impossible to find an excuse to not head out for a long walk. The birds came out to enjoy the sun, too. Here are some highlights:

A Blue Jay eats an acorn. (c) Greg Saulmon 2011

On the lawn of the city library on Maple Street Blue Jays were gorging themselves on acorns.

Acorns are a staple of the Blue Jay diet; the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s description of the species reads: “Their fondness for acorns is credited with helping spread oak trees after the last glacial period.”

But “fondness” might be an understatement: Blue Jays apparently love acorns, guzzling one after another whole in such a frenzy that the scene on the lawn looked like Coney Island’s Fourth of July Hot Dog-Eating Contest.

The photo at right was taken at 7:52 a.m.

The heron lands at the edge of the canal. (c) Greg Saulmon 2011


Twice each year Holyoke Gas & Electric drains the city’s extensive canal system so that building owners can perform maintenance on the turbines and other infrastructure that still provide electricity for a number of downtown buildings. The drainings happen in the spring and again in September, and that’s when the herons usually show up, poking around in the muck.

But this morning as I walked on Sargeant Street I saw two gulls glide into view and, trailing them, a much bigger bird.

The Great Blue Heron traced a few lazy circles over the canal (see above) before landing on the timbers at the entrance to the tail race of the old Parsons Paper Mill. A massive fire destroyed the mill in 2008, but its remains still attract crows and pigeons and, today, the big prehistoric-looking bird.

The heron sat and scanned the water for 4 minutes — 8:29 to 8:33 a.m. — before taking off in its slow-motion-like flight.


A Bald Eagle flies over Sargeant Street. (c) Greg Saulmon 2011

On the heels of the heron came another nice surprise on Sargeant Street: a Bald Eagle soaring beneath the waning moon.

I never saw eagles growing up around here, and never really figured I would. They were birds that lived in other places. And in 1979, according to a University of Massachusetts site devoted to the ecology of the Connecticut River, a winter survey found only 9 eagles in the entire state. But now they’re increasingly part of the landscape, even outside of their stronghold at the Quabbin Reservoir.

The 2011 winter survey count? 102, a new record.

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2 comments
  1. Lorrin said:

    Wow – apparently I have been walking around my whole like with my eyes closed! Thanks for the amazing images.

  2. Thanks, Lorrin.

    I never really thought I’d get into wildlife photography, but I’ve realized that birding in cities (and elsewhere) is very, very good deliberate practice for noticing all the little details — avian and otherwise — that make for good images.

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